Easy Rider had a huge impact on American culture, and specifically on motorcycle culture. The 1969 film chronicled the story of two hippy riders traveling from L.A. to New Orleans on their choppers, famously portrayed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, the latter also directing the movie.
Fonda’s bike, Captain America, is one of the most iconic motorcycles in history, while Hopper’s Billy Bike is only slightly less famous.
“It’s the story of a man who went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere,” according to the film’s trailer. Along the way, the counterculture anti-heroes pick up Old George, an alcoholic lawyer played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, who represents a halfway bridge between anti-establishment types and traditional America.
While the ending of Easy Rider (apparently a term used by prostitutes for their johns) is a downer, the film received several accolades, including Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay (for Hopper, Fonda, and Terry Southern) and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).
The scenes in the early part of the film were shot in Arizona, and some of them still exist today. The author of this article retraces some of the locations used in the iconic film for a look back at cinematic history. –Kevin Duke
All my life I’ve wanted to be Captain America, a rebel without a cause, a wild. I imagine riding down the road with friends on our Harleys, just like Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider. Sadly, my days of tolerating rigid Panheads are past me. If I can’t really live the lifestyle, I can relive some of the classic moments of the movie aboard a much plusher ride.
I began this journey leaving Sedona toward 89A, a wonderfully twisty ride that begins just north of town. The red-rock views here are astounding, and the 2,500-foot altitude change takes you through several different terrains and micro climates on the ride to Flagstaff.
In Flagstaff I take I-40 toward Bellemont. It’s only a 10-mile ride to Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson that’s on old Route 66 and a great stop for free coffee. Across the parking lot is the Roadhouse Bar & Grill. Hanging in the entry is the No Vacancy sign used in Easy Rider’s first location shot, the famous Pine Breeze Inn.
Only a quarter mile up the road from the dealership is the abandoned gas station that served as the Pine Breeze Inn. It’s where the Vacancy sign switched to No Vacancy and Billy and Wyatt were denied a room their first night. This classic building still stands 50 years later.
The Americana Inn on Route 66 in Flagstaff is where the actors and film crew stayed while shooting in Arizona.
In “The Making of Easy Rider” from the movie’s DVD bonus features, Peter Fonda relates a story of hitting the Americana bar after a long hot day of shooting. He ordered a cold beer but says his arms were so stiff from muscling Captain America’s ape-hangers and hard-tail, he couldn’t even lift the beer to his mouth.
Fonda also revealed that he missed out on frolicking around the pool because he’d soaked his new leathers in the bathtub to give them a more weathered look, and to his embarrassment, his legs turned purple from the dye.
Heading north on Highway 89, there is a hitchhiker on the road, just like in the movie. If I didn’t have my luggage onboard, I would have picked his ass up.
Along the road you will see Sacred Mountain on your left, which is recognizable from the film where Captain America and Billy gas up and their hitchhiker pays the tab. It’s also still here, complete with the Sacred Mountain sign.
Continuing north on 89, you will see the sign for Wupatki National Monument. This is where the film’s heroes camp on Day One. Unfortunately, the monument no longer allows camping or fires, and climbing on the ruins today is out of the question unless you want to spend the night in jail.
From there we continue up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and stop at both Yaki Point and Grandview Point for spectacular views of the canyon. Our final stop is at Grand Canyon Village for a snack before heading back to Sedona to complete a great day of riding.
The ride is a 264-mile loop and can easily take six or more hours, depending on stops.
Whether it’s Hollywood actors like Fonda and Hopper who take roles in Easy Rider, or just average Americans spending their hard-earned money touring this wondrous country, this iconic movie captured a boundless spirit, one that still inspires us today.
Ultimately, we’re each the writer of our own script defining the story of our life. As motorcycle riders, it’s not our nature to watch the passing parade. We live the adventure, command the starring role, and, yes, we actually do ride off into the sunset.